An article published earlier this month indicated that a recent UK study shows that food allergic children and their families feel isolated, stigmatized and unfairly excluded. To read the total article, you can link here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/kids-nut-allergy-teased-excluded_n_929809.html
I would have to say that overall, we’ve been lucky not to have many issues happen with our allergic child but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been there. There was the time that a good buddy at school told our child that she couldn’t have her to her birthday party because her mom didn’t want to deal with her peanut allergy. It took all of my strength not to phone that mom and have a little discussion. I didn’t in the end since I didn’t really think it would change anything except mortify my child even further.
There was also the time that one child wiped his hands down all of the bus seats as he got on the bus, telling everyone that he’d just had peanut butter. We were really pleased with how that got handled by the students on the bus themselves, many who had been riding that bus with our daughter for years and were very protective of her. Every child on that bus turned on that young man and kicked him off until he spoke to the bus driver. We then let the principal know when our child got home and told us what happened but peer pressure really made the difference that day. He never tried anything like that again.
But it’s also the incidents that aren’t so easy to quantify; when everybody else gets the birthday treat in the classroom or someone’s sharing candy with all of their friends but my child can’t take it. It’s definitely isolating, even when there is no evil intent. All kids need to learn (often the hard way) that life isn’t fair and sometimes bad things do happen to good people but there are plenty of opportunities to learn that out there without the added exclusion that food allergies can certainly bring.
Some of you are probably hoping to avoid the whole back to school mindset for a little while longer but I have to say that it’s been on my mind for a while. That’s because Megan is heading off to high school next year for grade 10. What compounds the normal food allergy issues is that it is a self-directed school where students work through modules and may have different schedules from each other.
This means that Megan is not attending her regular feeder high school but a magnet school where children come from all over the school district. For the first time, she will be without her regular posse of friends who have been very protective of Megan and her allergies. Further, as a self-directed school, there are not set lunch hours so we’ve already been told that kids eat everywhere and that food allergens may be difficult to monitor. The school itself is in a rural setting, about half an hour from our home by highway.
Statistically speaking, teenagers are at a higher risk of anaphylaxis than younger children. Throw in the regular teenage desire to not be different (which is often amplified for food allergic teens) and an assumption by adults that food allergic teens need to start becoming more responsible for their own safety and you can get a recipe for disaster. This is what worries me despite the fact that we know we’ve trained our child well. It’s still no guarantee, as many parents who have lost their teen allergic children can attest.
I’m not trying to be a scare monger but I’m finding this change really difficult. Even more so than when we moved to our new home here on Vancouver Island or when Megan went to junior high. Perhaps it’s a lack of control that I’m feeling, especially since it won’t be easy to just drop into the school and be as involved as I have been in the past.
On the bright side, we had to fill out a new food allergy form this summer to send into the school so I see that our school district’s food allergy policies are being followed. Megan’s epi pens are up to date and her alert bracelet is in good order. We informed the school as to her food allergies in the spring and we have another meeting at the end of August before school starts in September so we’re certainly doing all of the right things.
I’m not sure what the alternative is: home schooling, move to Antarctica or the biosphere, buy a teen size plastic bubble? We’d all be driven nuts in short order but maybe I’d sleep a little better at night.